The meaning of life revealed in a dram

On our last night on the isle of Arran, Charles and I have what is, without doubt, my best dinner since getting off the Chantilly. It’s at Creelers in Brodick, a well-known seafood restaurant. We start off with a trio of smoked Scottish salmon followed by whole lobsters from the north coast that Sam, the chef, tells us “Came in kickin’ just this morning.”

For dessert, I order a trio of Arran cheeses, including the whisky cheese, along with a dram of 10-year-old single malt Isle of Arran. Sipping my water of life, I feel expansive. I feel emotional. I feel as if I am exactly where I should be at this moment in time, and whether it’s the north coast lobster, the Arran cheese, or, more likely, the warming whisky, I couldn’t tell you. Nor does it matter.

Driving back to the Glenartney, Charles seems to sense my Scottish euphoria. Without saying a word, he ignores the turnoff to our hotel and keeps driving along the coast. It is 9:30 on a late summer eve in Scotland but it is still light out. The gloaming. The most glorious time, in my mind, in all the day. The sky is layers of orange, purple, and pale blue, particularly towards Goat Fell, the barren, stoney hill that is the highest mountain on Arran.

The gloaming on the isle of Arran.

The gloaming on the isle of Arran.

We drive and drive along this Great Wee Road out into the country until suddenly Charles slams on the brakes and we come to a halt in the middle of nowhere. Have we hit something? Has the car broken down?

Without saying a word, Charles gets out of the car. I follow. He is staring off towards the sea. I follow his gaze to a green pasture sloping gently down to the shoreline. There, just on the other side of the fence, are two silent, magnificent hairy coos staring calmly at me, a mother and her calf.

“Oh my god,” I whisper.

Mama hairy coo. Photos by David Lansing.

A mama hairy coo, top, and child on the isle of Arran. Photos by David Lansing.

A mama hairy coo, top, and child on the isle of Arran. Photos by David Lansing.

Charles smiles but doesn’t say a word. I cross the country road and stand at the fence, close enough to touch the mother hairy coos. She is stoic and serene and wise-looking. Like the Queen Mother herself. Or a bovine Buddha. Standing there before them is as close to a spiritual experience as I think I’ve ever had. I half-wonder if they are going to start talking to me, telling me what to do with the rest of my life.

“Should I stay or should I go?” I ask them.

The hairy coos are elegantly silent.

Back at the Glenartney, I find that I am so contented I can hardly stand it. While Charles goes off to his room, I head off to the lounge, which is little more than a home bar, and ask Robbie to pour me an Arran whisky with just a wee touch of water. I take my whisky out into the garden and sit in an old rickety wooden garden chair facing Goat Fell, sipping on my single malt and thinking about my time in the Hebrides.

There’s a lot that happens emotionally to me when I travel. It’s not really all about finding the perfect dram or listening to the stories of old coots or hoping to spot a hairy coo, though, of course, that’s all part of it. It’s more about what happens inside you. It’s about the thoughts you have and the cinematic dreams that come over you at night when you’re outside your comfort zone.

It’s about life. As Graham, the captain of Chantilly, told me back at Talisker on our last evening together, “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.”

Sitting in the gloaming, drinking my whisky, I imagine taking a spiritual retreat at the Buddhist sanctuary on Holy Isle. I contemplate grounding myself for a year in some small village like Port Ellen and maybe buying the pub where, years ago, an Irish artist painted a mural of Islay scenes depicting the locals in exchange for a dram—or two—of whisky. I wonder over the possibility of living in Barnhill, George Orwell’s old stone house on Jura and looking for the Future Stone.

I sip my whisky and I think hard about all the possibilities before me. Here on a small isle on the western coast of Scotland.

And I’m really thinking about it, Graham. All of it.

I’m thinking hard.

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  1. Fred Harwood’s avatar

    What a coup; two coos and a glorious gloaming in the same piece. A fabulous photo, and the telling was worth the wait.

    As for should you stay or should you go, think hard also about why the hotel closes in October, and the ‘air on the coos.

  2. Sonia’s avatar

    Oh how magnificent…would have been a serene spiritual moment. I felt that way at the Lyndon B Johnson Homestead out side Austin. Preserved to cast reflections of days gone by..standing in front of this 6 ft tall texas longhorn. Beautifully brindled with black,grey,and white. Just 2 feet away snapping pictures of him staring at. I felt so content. Then my husband pulled up (did not mention I wondered off while he was getting gas) honked the horn of the truck. The longhorn charged me. Serene content gone…but uninjured I gained a whole respect for bovine.

    Smiles….Loved the adventure with you and every read

  3. david’s avatar

    Fred and Sonia, thanks for all your lovely comments about my travels in Scotland. Fred, I’ve been to Scotland in October and I know what you mean about the weather. So it’s time to move on. We’re off to the wine country in Washington, of all places, next. Some very interesting geology there, Fred…

  4. Fred Harwood’s avatar

    Juan de Fuca subduction plate, Cascade Range, Vancouver Island, Columbia Gorge, … Oh yeah!

    And the wine…. Well, I trust you to tell us about it. I’ve a very old story about Merlot …

  5. Elizabeth Westmark (Beth)’s avatar

    I was scanning old, pre-digital Isle of Arran photos this morning from 1998, which included several hairy coos. Since I’ll be adding them to one of my blogs, I “Googled” hairy cows of Scotland and was lucky to find not only your post and photos but your own globe-trotting, story-telling self. I live in a Longleaf pine forest in the panhandle of Florida and look forward to armchair traveling and good reading. Got so engrossed I haven’t even ground my coffee beans or fed the old dog yet!

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